Angola anti-govt protesters freed after week in jail
An Angolan court has freed dozens of protesters arrested during anti-government demonstrations late last month, their lawyers said, as frustrations against the regime continue to boil.
Hundreds of Angolans marched through the coastal capital Luanda on October 24, demanding better living conditions and a new date for local elections delayed by coronavirus.
Government officials said over 100 people were arrested, including six media workers who were freed within days without charge.
The rest of the detainees remained behind bars and testified before a city courthouse in lengthy proceedings that ended with their release late Sunday night.
Lawyer Zola Bambi of the Observatory for Social Cohesion and Justice -- one of several rights groups representing the protesters -- said 71 detainees were handed a one-month jail sentence converted into a fine of 46,000 kwanzas ($69 / 59 euros) for "civil disobedience".
The rest were acquitted.
Legal aid group Maos Livres has appealed for the sentence to be suspended.
"There was no evidence," lawyer Salvador Freire, head of Maos Livres, told reporters after the verdict.
"The police were poorly educated and were unable to point out who had committed (alleged offences)."
The demonstrators had initially been charged with voluntary body harm and property damage.
They blocked roads with tree trunks and burning tyres, prompting anti-riot police to respond with beatings and tear gas.
Activists claim authorities downplayed the figures and that close to 500 people were arrested on the day, almost 400 of which remain unaccounted for.
The government has not responded to the allegations.
Protests have become increasingly frequent since President Joao Lourenco succeeded Jose Eduardo dos Santos in 2017 -- raising hopes of change after almost four decades marked by corruption and nepotism.
But disenchantment towards the government has grown in recent months, with several marches called to denounce alleged state graft, joblessness and police brutality.
The latest protest was backed by main opposition party UNITA and there have been calls for another round of demonstrations this month.
Lourenco last week upheld the right to demonstrate but said doing so in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak was "irresponsible".
The southwest African country has recorded over 10,800 coronavirus cases to date, including 284 deaths.
UNITA president Adalberto Costa Junior said the protesters were detained for a week without basis, showing what he said was political bias in the justice system.
"They wanted to psychologically torture them," Junior told AFP via telephone on Monday, lamenting the "dictatorship" in Angola.
"We hope young people will keep courage... and continue resisting."